Schofield soldiers reunited with friends, family for Easter after year in Afghanistan

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD (HawaiiNewsNow) - About 140 men and women of the 25th Infantry Division's "Bronco Brigade" returned home Sunday after spending a year in Afghanistan.

The return of the final group of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team means that nearly all the soldiers from Schofield Barracks have returned to Hawaii.

"We had about 3,500 from our brigade that deployed, and this is the last aircraft coming back to Hawaii," said brigade commander Col. Richard Kim. Kim is a graduate of McKinley High School and the University of Hawaii.

The brigade spent the last year in eastern Afghanistan, conducting counter-insurgency operations in some of the country's most deadly provinces.

"The entire battalion, the entire brigade did a fantastic job supporting the troops and the country of Afghanistan. They did a phenomenal job," said brigade member, First Lt. Stephanie Jacobs.

The brigade commander believes the country remains in good hands. "As we were leaving, what we saw was the confidence of our Afghan security forces, their abilities and their capabilities increased quite a bit," said Kim. "More than ever we're seeing a lot of them taking the lead and doing more independent operations, and they're doing it very well."

There was one last moment for soldiers to "hurry up and wait" with excitement to reunite with their families and friends.

"It is awesome, it is awesome," said Staff Sgt. Tamika Carmichael. "Finally made it home with my family. We're all together again after 361 plus (days), and all ready to relax."

"It's definitely a good feeling," said Capt. Daniel Smith. "Hawaii's more beautiful than I remembered it."

"Food! I miss the food," said Sgt. Almendro Fernandez of Waipahu, who was returning from his third combat deployment in six years. "I miss my family. That's about it. The two things that I want to be home for."

After what seemed to be a long wait for families, members of the brigade marched in formation into the building for the dismissal ceremony, to welcoming cheers -- and eventually, welcoming arms.

"it's absolutely wonderful," said Maj. Dan Derner, carrying his four-year-old daughter Leah, while wife Meghan held their younger daughter Lyvia and their three-month-old son Dane. His wife and children were all dressed in red, white and blue. "I can't imagine seeing them in the real, how great it is."

Meantime, Carmichael was reunited with her husband. "It feels great. It feels really, really great. I'm very happy," she said.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.